Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh announced the appointments to his Columbus Circle Action Group. The 23-member group will make recommendations to Mayor Walsh regarding the creation of an all-season, education and learning site at the downtown park space that has been home to a statue of Christopher Columbus since 1934. The group’s charge will include recommendations on the presence of the monument in the Circle.

The action group includes stakeholders representing a wide range of views on the issue of Columbus commemoration and the presence of the monument in Columbus Circle: the Onondaga Nation, the Italian American community, New Americans, multiple communities of color, faith-based organizations, local government, and the Interfaith Works Dialogue Circles on Columbus convened by Mayor Walsh in 2018-19. Participants are:

Haji Adan                               Syracuse Refugee and Immigrant Self-Empowerment (RISE)

Pastor H. Bernard Alex          Victory Temple Fellowship Church

Yaya Delgado                         Henninger High School Graduate (trained in Action Group methodology)

Hon. Joe Driscoll                    Syracuse Common Councilor

Imam Mohammed ElFiki       Islamic Society of Central New York

Ocesa Keaton                        Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E.

Greg Loh                                Office of the Mayor

Betty Lyons                            Onondaga Nation Member

Rex Lyons                              Onondaga Nation Member

Fr. David McCallum, S.J.        Le Moyne College

Hon. Rita Paniagua                Syracuse Common Councilor

Richard Pietrafesa                  Italian American

Nick Pirro                                Columbus Monument Association

Lisa Sacco                              Italian American/Mohawk Tribal Member

Isaura Severino                      Office of the Mayor

Joe Romano                           Italian American

Fr. John Rose                         Roman Catholic Priest (ret.)

Clifford Ryan                           OG’s Against Violence

Asa Shenandoah                    Onondaga Nation Member

Cindy Squillace                       NOON

Ralph Torillo, Sr.                      Italian American

Gregg Tripoli                           Onondaga Historical Association

Michael Vavonese                   Italian American

“The time for action is now. I want to thank each of these individuals for committing to the hard work ahead.  They are well-respected people in their spheres of influence, and their participation speaks volumes about the importance of this work,” said Mayor Walsh. “We have no illusion that this will be easy. Healing is hard work. I am heartened that I will be able to implement a path forward knowing that all voices will have had the opportunity to be heard. The education and learning site we create and the process we use to get there can be a national model for dealing with these painful and complicated matters of history that impact us today.”

The group will begin meeting later this month under the facilitation and guidance of Interfaith Works, a Syracuse non-profit organization.  The Mayor has asked for a report from the group before the end of summer.

Three different Dialogue Circles met between September 2018 and July 2019.  The groups met for over a month, studying differing viewpoints about Columbus, the roles that Native Americans and Italian immigrants played in American history and in our Central New York community, and why this issue is so complex today. At the conclusion of the circles, Interfaith Works prepared a report with recommendations from the dialogue.

The report also included recommendations to conduct a community education campaign; modify the existing monument; add an additional Native American monument; involve Native Americans in current Columbus celebrations; as well as to change the Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day or to add a separate Indigenous Peoples Day. All recommendations were not endorsed by all participants. 

Mayor Walsh hosted a “Common Ground Forum” in September 2019 which brought together Dialogue Circle participants holding widely different viewpoints for further discussion of solutions. He also participated in a three-hour Kairos Blanket Exercise, an interactive educational program on the history of Indigenous peoples in North America.

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